Blue Marble Travel
TRIP COORDINATOR OPERATING MANUAL — 2015
© 2015 Blue Marble Travel.
Sections 2 & 11 updated for 2012. Sections 3 - 8 & 15 updated for 2013. Sections 1 & 9 updated for 2014. Sections 10, 12 & 13 updated for 2015.
May not be photocopied or reproduced in any form without the written authorization of Blue Marble Travel.
This document is designed to answer the question, How do I do what I am supposed to do?
Most of it deals with your job “on the road.” But section 14 summarily discusses your “Back Office” obligations, in Paris.
You will find that most of the things stated in it are simply common sense. Many of the tasks mentioned are less things you have to do, than things you will do naturally, to get your trip from A to B.
Still, please read through it carefully. Its suggestions will come back to you at opportune times. And it provides the framework necessary to harmonize our work as Coordinators, offering our guests a uniform experience: the one they were promised by our commercial materials when they signed up for their trips.
Finally, it tells you how our guests describe the ideal Coordinator. This is an ideal none of us attain. But the closer we come, the more we enjoy our guests company, the more we bring to their travel experience... and the more we earn, individually, and as a company.
Table of Contents
1. Managing the Trips Finances
15. Representing Blue Marble, Final Comment
1 Managing the Trips Finances
You are asked to respect a budget.
This is not hard: most of your expenses are locked in (hotels, many meals, train tickets, cycle shipping). Many of the rest are obviously justifiable, like phone calls. For the few remaining ones, which you have control over, the budget is comfortable. Moreover, modest overspending is not frowned upon until you have been over a route a couple of times.
More importantly, you are asked to keep watch over Blue Marbles financial interest. None of us have very much money in this outfit, and what we have is very directly related to how well our trips do from year to year. What does this mean?
1.1. What You (as Blue Marble) Pay For
1.2. What You (as Blue Marble) DONT Pay For
1.3. How You Pay for Things
Credit cards are generally preferable to other payment methods, for safety and cash flow reasons. Amex, in particular, provides an effective 2% reduction on every expense. But even VI and MC push back payment dates by a month, and this can be of some importance.
You will normally carry a company card (or cards), but you should have your own in reserve in case of emergency. If your credit limit is below $5,000, your card cannot really play this back-up role, since no single expense can exceed the amount of your credit limit. And some single hotel bills will be in the thousands. In this case, be sure to have us order a second company card for you at least one month in advance of your first trip, or to take out extra cash / checks when you leave.
Please avoid paying a part of a bill by one means and another part by another (for instance, part with a credit card and part with cash). Doing so results in an accounting nightmare. The final total on the written invoice should correspond to the amount of the credit card charge, except in emergency.
1.4. Revenues You Take In
On the revenue side, you collect for and report revenues for the following:
These revenues are kept track of through a receipt book. Whenever you take in cash, establish a receipt. A copy is available to your guest, and a carbon remains in your book. A receipt is established for every cash collection, even if your guest does not want his copy. These receipts are invaluable in balancing your accounts at the end of your trip.
1.5. What You Accept as Payment
If a guest must pay you for something, you may accept the following
1.6. Keeping Accounts
Please keep careful day-to-day accounts of expenses. This is very important to us. It is also important to you, both because you have a “productivity imperative” (only one or two days are allocated for end-of-trip accounting upon your return to Paris, and such days are paid at your lower trip rate), and because a significant portion of your annual bonus depends on your clarity and precision in this domain. It is virtually certain that you will need more than the allotted day the first time you face this task, but it is easy to handle in a half day once you have learned the ropes.
This timing assumes that you do your day-to-day receipt classification as you travel.
We are concerned with two things in your account keeping. The obvious one is what really happened: how much money you spent on the trip, and for what. The less obvious one is that we also need you to cover your real expenses with real receipts (for tax audit purposes), though not necessarily the same ones.
2. Handling the Bikes
Naturally, you assist our guests in keeping their bicycles in good repair. If you do not now have sufficient knowledge in the area of cycle maintenance, you will spend a week in our Paris garage before setting out on your first trip.
2.1. Problems You Always Deal With
You will have to solve any major problem, either yourself, or with the help of a cycle shop. Try to do so permanently, even at some extra cost, if the cycle can continue straight to its next trip without routing back to Paris.
But do not fix the bike for a next trip if it means equipping it with some non-standard part. If it has a 8-gear rear casette, and you can only buy a 9, try to stop the bikes progress across Europe and get it back to Paris, calling for a new one to start the next trip segment.
2.2. Problems That You Will Sometimes Deal With
While you never refuse to help with any cycle problem, even the simplest (raising a seat, for instance), you have many demands on your time. At the start of the trip, and before the issue first arises, find a way to tactfully make understood that the simplest cycle problems must take a back seat to other aspects of your job, like setting up dinner, paying hotel bills, presenting the next days route, and having your morning coffee to get you going.
We have found that the following way of presenting things is cheerfully accepted by most. Positive statement first: explain that you will never refuse cycle help, and will never set out in the morning until all cycles are running to everyones satisfaction.
However, problems guests can fix themselves (raising and lowering of seats, flat repair, etc.) have a lower priority than problems which need your expertise, either cycle or not cycle-related. Thus they tend not to get attended to until the end of the morning if they are left to you. Add an appeal to the mechanically inclined to lend a teaching hand to those with less expertise....
To help you with this, before our guests even reach their trips, they receive a Day in the Life of a Blue Marble document, in which we attempt to prepare them for this and other aspects of traveling with us. You should read this document, since it frames our guests' expectations of you. But even with all our attempts to weed them out, you will still have some Butterballs, transfuges from high-end trips who expect you to clean the mud off their deraileurs, or fill their waterbottles, or whatever. Let them down gently.... And maybe find a hose for the deraileurs if your trip has seen a lot of mud.
2.3. Helping Your Guests Cope With Their Own Cycle Problems
Many guests will bring their own saddles and / or pedals, an option we offer upon sign-up. But attaching the pedals to the bikes is a particularly delicate operation. Pedal arms are aluminum, while the pedals are steel. Any guesses as to which one wins? Once you strip a pedal arm, you have an inoperable bike on your hands, which needs a 50 euro replacement part that you will not be able to buy for 3 days because it is rare, and you are at the start of the weekend.
Michels solution: require that guests screw in their pedals by hand, not with the aid of a wrench. If a client has brought his own wrench, try to prevent him from using it. A pedal threaded by hand, which refuses to go in, has probably been badly started. Forcing it on in unfortunately all too easy to do with a pedal wrench will simply strip the threading (or rather re-create new, fragile threading, on an angle). Be attuned to this issue on bike set-up day, and help people as necessary.
Also at the start of the trip (or the first evening / second morning, since people are in a hurry to start the first day), schedule a voluntary workshop, during which you show your guests three things. If possible, get them to do these things along with you.
If you are new to cycle touring, know the following for the comfort of your clients:
2.4. Handing Your Bikes Off to the Next Trip
At the end of a trip, you must turn your bikes in (or send them on to their next trip) in good operating and aesthetic condition. If you cannot for any reason (breakdown on the last day, spare part unavailable, etc.), you must clearly signal any work that needs to be done, so that the next coordinator does not find himself with a faulty machine and an angry guest. In a worst case, call for a replacement bike from Paris, and send your bum machine home for serious care.
The job of preparing cycles for their ongoing trips is an important one, and should be begun a day or two before an itinerary segment ends. You will often be surprised to find serious problems in cycles that have reported none, because their riders were novices and did not realize that a permanently clamped brake was abnormal (these people go home with very strong calves), or because they “didn't want to bother you” (nice, but misses the point).
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3. Preparing and Shipping the Remote Sack
Guests not reaching their trips via Paris may nonetheless need equipment from us (paniers, rain capes, etc.). You supply them with this equipment wherever they first meet their cycles (Libourne, Lac de Joux, Brig, etc.).
To this end, and before you set out, either you or your Baggage Master (under your supervision) prepares a remote sack, containing the equipment that you may be asked to supply at trip start. You will find what has been requested by flipping through the guest invoices, where a section is devoted to the topic. But it is prudent to take an extra panier and two extra handlebar bags if your remote sack does not need to be carried on your bike, as this is a request our guests can forget to make, or we can forget to record.
This sack should then be either shipped or carried to the trips rendezvous point.
Once equipment has been distributed from the sack, it (and any guest luggage that is not needed during the course of the trip — “One-Way Bag Shipping” pieces) is shipped on to the end of the trip segment. There, the Blue Marble equipment is returned, and luggage recovered by any guest completing his or her trip. Sometimes the sack does not go directly to the end of the trip segment, but rather back to Paris first, and then comes out again to meet the end of the trip.
Note that you may profit from this shipment to lighten your own load of Coordinator stuff not needed on the itinerary segment in progress (maps and resource material for the next segment of the trip, for instance). If you are out for two or three weeks, you should carry some supplies for which we pay bulk prices in Paris, such as inner tubes, pumps, a spare derailleur rather than being obligated to buy them from local cycle shops at twice the price.
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4. Shipping Guests Luggage
4.1. When Do We Do This?
In two circumstances. First, some guests will have luggage that they need before or after their trip (but not during). It must be forwarded to the point where they part company with us, and need to return their rental paniers (if applicable). This is called our “One-Way Bag Shipping” service.
Second, some will have a Baggage Transfer service. Their luggage follows them more-or-less closely through their trip, depending on the itinerary and on the service subscribed. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these services, and to understand which one each of your guests has subscribed before you set out on your trip.
4.2. How Much Do We Charge?
We tell our guests, when they join our trips, that we "have a contract with the railroad which allows us to" ship luggage from any start or end point of our trips to any other (or to Paris) for $65 (2013). Some people find this service expensive (which is why we put it off on the railroad), but it is not an easy one to provide, and our price for it is reasonable.
That the railroad was involved was long true, but the current situation is far more complex. As often as not, we now transport the shipped articles ourselves. Why? In some countries (Spain, Denmark, Italy...), shipping by train is impossible. Even in those which still offer the service, transit times have lengthened, reliability has deminished, and complexity of rules and pricing structures has increased.
Pricing all these variables and generating a shipment-by-shipment price chart is a level of detail no one wants. So the price is “x” per piece, and it is up to us to make it happen at the lowest cost.
The luggage transfer services are priced by trip, specified on the web site.
4.3. How Do I Ship the Bags?
You wont always have to. Often this will be the role of a Baggage Master.
When it is your job, it is normally in one of these four conditions:
Unusual emergency situations can also require your intervention.
Here is an outline of how to ship luggage when it falls to you to do so.
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5. Managing the Trains
You must spend some time learning how to read rail tickets, how to use (and abuse) the tariffs, and generally how to handle the mysterious world of trains for our guests.
5.1. Trips You Make as a Group
Your trip may use individual train tickets, group tickets, railpasses, or some combination. You will typically have a mix of 1st and 2nd class tickets on your group. Many of our guests will have upgraded to 1st class for some or all of their train tickets (and all are offered the opportunity to do so), but not all will. Be sure to visit those sitting in 2nd, so that they do not feel left out.
You should know how to read your tickets, how to make reservations, and some of the tricks necessary to navigate complex rail journeys. A few precise points:
5.2 Bail-Out Trips
You must also be familiar with our bail-outs, whatever you may think of the concept personally. We stress their availability in our marketing, and you must make their use a reality, so that people do not feel obligated to exhaust themselves by finishing a day that is really too much for them. In fact, you should even encourage them, perhaps to the point of using one yourself, just to establish the principle.
Use any research trip to learn how to get bikes on and off trains, where the stations are, how one buys tickets for the bike... enough to make yourself comfortable with the process on your route. If you aren’t at ease in the world of the railroad, you cannot dedramatize it for your guests.
Never make anyone feel guilty, or ashamed, for finishing a day by train. You should also try to counter such a sentiment from others in the group, where it will inevitably surface. Bailing out should always be an option that our guests are as comfortable with as possible. One of our guests most common complaints regarding our Coordinators used to be something to the effect, made me feel as if I was copping out when I took the train. Since so much of your salary depends on the opinion you leave, your snobbery will carry a real financial cost to you here.
Bail-outs are the financial responsibility of our guests, and are not included in their trip prices.
5.3 Other Individual Train Trips
Occasionally, our route sheets will route a trip onto a train during the course of a cycle day. This can be to get around a boring section of road, or to cover some distance. Since you will rarely be at the boarding station at the same time as all the members of your group, general practice is that they buy their own tickets and present them to you for reimbursement. You must have sufficient cash (and change) on hand for days on which this happens.
Insist that your guests buy their own tickets and give them to you for reimbursement, rather than giving them cash (or tickets) in advance. This is a way for you to reliably obtain the necessary accounting receipt. If a passenger still throws away (or loses) his ticket, get him to give you a bogus lunch receipt. If this is too much work, get your pax to sign a receipt for cash received (look at your receipt book: these receipts are designed to work both ways).
If a guest chooses not to use the train in a case such as this, and instead bikes up the big hill, or the extra 80 k, or whatever, he does not get the train ticket reimbursement. If he whines, point out (with a smile) that his extra calorie consumption means that he eats more (and thus costs more) at dinner. The general point being that this type of financial nit-picking can lead in many different directions. Either the trip includes certain services, or we take the budget, divide it 10 ways, and everyone goes and has their own trip. From our point of view, we do not want to be seen rewarding jock-ism at the expense of those who choose to have a more relaxing ride.
5.4 Baggage Problems
If luggage shipped by us is misdelivered (this happens very rarely, but it has happened), strike a careful balance between being helpful, and taking responsibility. Help as you can, hunting down the bags and getting them to where they need to be. But we are only a sub-contractor. If the plane / train / automobile delivers the bags late, we assume a certain financial responsibility, beyond that assumed by the carrier. Follow these links to see what that responsibility is.
Beyond that, the dispute is between passenger and carrier, and our only role is to help as best we can.
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6. Resource Material, Route Advice
You carry with you a variety of resource material, some for distribution to our guests, and some to have on hand for consultation, your own or theirs.
6.1 What You Give Out, and How
Maps are given out to each guest at the start of the trip, and exchanged for new ones as the route moves from one map territory to the next. We do not give the maps away. Some people do choose to buy them so that they may mark them up (you must know the prices).
During the biking portions of the trip you make yourself available twice daily, once before dinner, and once after breakfast the following morning, to discuss the coming days projects. The morning “meet and greet” can be cancelled on a day-by-day basis if have direct contact with everyone in the evening. Remember, though, that we heavily market flexibility. Our guests are supposed to have a lot of latitude in the way they use their time. If you schedule your one daily meeting at 8:30a, your guests will not feel that they can sleep in. If you schedule it at 7p, and one of them is in the midst of the mother of all hot baths You must make yourself available twice per day.
Before dinner, or as you sit down, give out the route sheets for the day in question. Be sure that anyone not dining with you gets the sheets in their rooms, ideally before you go to dinner! Route sheets give a written record of the next days project and describe our preferred route or routes.
You then help everyone find our suggested route on the maps, and give additional tourist info or opinions (if you have any). You also answer any questions, announce your own travel program (see 8, below), and deal with outstanding debts and credits (reimbursing included train tickets, for instance).
This process lasts 5 minutes when the route sheets are good and / or you are not really familiar with the route, a half an hour or more when there is a lot to go over.
It is important to get route sheets and your own travel schedule (see 8, below) to all, imperatively before you retire for the night.
6.2. Other Stuff You Carry With You
On the road, the goal is that you read maps, and show yourself familiar with the area you are travelling in (if not the particular road you are travelling over).
However, if you are uncertain of your route, or (more generally) have not been over a route before, say so, quickly. You will never be forgiven for a confident turn that turns out to be a mistake, especially if it leads uphill. You will be grudgingly pardoned for not being sure of your route. If you are at a loss at a given fork, and someone else seems certain of the route, cede to his judgement without endorsing it. He will be blamed for the wrong turn, not you.
Also try to demonstrate as broad a cultural knowledge as possible. This doesn't mean showing off. You will often have guests who think (sometimes correctly) that they know more than you do on a given topic. Avoid challenging them. In the interest of your own mental health, you should be prepared to cope with ignorance, and with any sort of political opinion. You are free to manifest your own opinions, but it is part of your job to tolerate others. If you find them odious, avoid the topics that bring them out.
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8. Cycling From A to B Each Day
Provision of accurate information regarding your own plans is all-important to your back-up of the days ride.
8.1. Choosing Your Route
The route sheets will often propose several choices for completing a day's journey. You should generally follow the base route, unless bail-outs along it are very good. In that case, you may follow any route you please, so long as at least some members of the group have also chosen it. Any section of the base route which you are not planning to follow should be made very clear to your guests, so that they understand that there will be a delay should you need to come and help them.
If several routes are given equal billing, try to follow the route which you sense would be the choice of the majority of the weaker cyclists. If their choice disappoints you, cope. You will be back if you want to be. They are only here once, and they are paying to have your help on the trip.
Cell phones give you some liberty in your choice of route. Make sure that your guests have your phone number, and feel that they can call you for help if need be. You mus, be prepared to intervene anywhere on the base route in a reasonable amount of time, unless that route is very well backed-up.
8.2. Communicating Your Choice, and Your Timing, to Our Guests
Again, whichever route you follow, be clear about it. Announce an earliest schedule from your starting point, and from a couple of important intermediate points. Then respect this schedule without fail. For instance, I will not set out before 11, will not leave town A before 2, and will not leave town B before 4.
Dont worry about being behind your schedule. Problems or a long lunch can slow you down. But, barring an absolute emergency, you should never get ahead of it.
Exception: if you can somehow be sure that no one has detoured off-route, and that everyone is ahead of you, then you may leave a time point in advance of your announced schedule. For instance, in the case where some members of the group you are with saw the others leave town before you arrived.
The purpose of announcing your schedule is to allow guests with cycle (or other) trouble to predict your passage, and especially to allow them to make a judgement as to whether or not they can count on your help in the event of a problem. If they have gone off-route and then come back to the route, they should be able to tell whether or not you are still behind.
8.3. Timing Your Trip
Your starting time should always be late, and you should plan to complete a normal day no earlier than 5:30p or so, so that late risers do not feel under pressure to change their habits. If you are an enthusiastic cyclist, and wish to do some extra k, go for a loop ride in the morning which brings you back to the hotel for a noon start. Weaker cyclists should be encouraged to set out without waiting for you, since even if you can easily ride 60 k starting at noon, this will not be the case for all of your charges. Dont worry about company: even if you start the day alone, you will catch someone to ride with all too soon.
8.4. Backing Up Your Route As You Cycle
As you pass through villages and towns, try to swing by points where your charges may be resting, so to have a general idea of where people are, and how they are progressing. Cafés, restaurants, tourist sights, and the railway station if it is a mentioned bail-out point, are all good candidates for a quick inspection.
In general, try to avoid passing people, but this will not always be possible. For example, if some of your guests are dawdling along in anticipation of an intermediate point bail-out, you will have to continue ahead in order to ride the whole route. But be aware of who is behind you, and where, since if they falter seriously, they will ultimately be your problem. And be sure to make clear to them that you are moving ahead because their pace implies that either they will not be doing the entire route, or that they will be pulling in at dinner time, while you must get there in time to set dinner up. Present this tactfully: it can be taken badly if it is seen as a reflection on the guest's cycling ability. “You will enjoy the ride more if you don’t rush through it, as I must.”
8.5. Making Sure That Your Charges Safely Reach Home Port
When you reach the hotel, introduce yourself to the hotel keeper, so that he knows what you look like. If practical, give him your cell phone number. Then try to stay at (or regularly stop by) the hotel until dinner time, or until everyone has safely arrived, whichever comes first. Make sure that the hotel keeper knows where you are in the hotel, if elsewhere than your room.
If some of your charges are still not in at dinner time, do not wait. The presumption is that our guests will call us before 7:30p if they need help. No call is taken to imply no help needed, and this is explicitly spelled out in the documentation that they receive. Be attentive to cell phone coverage, however, and make us the hotel as an emergency back-up. “If you can’t get through to me, call the hotel.”.
In the event of a call for help from the road, try to pilot people in without going out to get them, especially if more than one group is still out. This may be via bail-out, depending on the circumstances (weak cyclist in tears on account too long a day, too much rain, whatever). Guests pay for their own bail-outs, but obviously if the bikes axle has broken, we should fund the rescue project.
You have absolute authority here, and need not consult Paris to get permission to pay for a bail-out. You are expected to act in the companys interest. This interest may include funding a bail-out, but does not always. For example: the whiner who gets a flat, doesnt know how to fix it, decides not to wait for you because that could take hours, and takes a 50-euro cab ride in, should pay for the ride. We have no commercial interest in funding this bail-out. We probably will never see this person again, and if we did, it would be too bad. The passenger has made no effort to minimize the cost of the solution... it should be his or her money that funds it.
On the other end of the spectrum, the friendly and cheerful guest whose bike gives out in some non-conventional way, and walks a k in the pouring rain to the nearest train station, to wait 2 hours for the next train, should hear you offer to refund the train ticket (plus a beers interest) before s/he even thinks of it.
Two remarks are in order:
First, the companys interest is not necessarily the same as your own, parochial interest. You should only fund bail-outs to satisfy the former. A whiner will give you a hard time regarding his cab fare: you are expected to stand up to that as part of your job, and not to throw money at him. Conversely, a cheerful and friendly guest may never bring the topic up, and so could be ignored without putting a damper on your day. This is the person who will travel with us again or not. Please do everything you can to make sure that s/he wants to.
Second, it has been previously said that you have absolute authority to decide these issues. However, do not neglect the utility of having a fictitious boss. It may help you to get along with a difficult guest to say that you lack the authority to satisfy the guests (unreasonable) request, but that your decisions can be appealed to Paris, and that the guest should simply put the request in writing (e-mail from a cybercafe). Or, if you have made a reply that the guest is not happy about, that the decision came from on high, and must be appealed to same.
Please do not over-use this. You should not leave the impression that Im a great guy, but those bastards in Paris.... This will do nothing for our return rate. If you pass a problem on to Paris, always do so under the pretext that you are unsure of how to react, and not because oppressive Paris prevents you from doing what you naturally would otherwise.
When you do this, be sure to call Paris in real time (and in all events before your guest does), and tell us how you want us to deal with the problem. Remember, the real decision is yours; it is important that we know what you expect us to do.
8.6. First Aid
We do not advertise knowledge of first aid, but you should always have the essentials with you: cleansing alcohol, band-aids, a larger bandage or two, aspirin....
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9. The Evening Meal
You will generally dine with some or all of our guests each evening. On the 5 nights per week when dinner is included, be sure that all guests feel welcome to join you (even when you do not feel this in your heart...). Most generally will.
At the same time, always make sure people feel that it is a real option to go off on their own. Try to have alternate restaurant recommendations, for instance. This provides a very useful safety valve for intra-group tension, which you may not always be aware of, even when it exists. It is also important for some couples. Above all, it is a liberty we promise, commercially.
If group dynamics are poor, do your utmost to break the group into smaller units. Techniques include announcing that you do not feel well, but will accompany a group ready to eat early to a local restaurant, and help them to order. Then go back to the hotel to get others, no doubt feeling lonely and abandoned, decide that you “feel better,” and take them elsewhere. Once it is established that dining together is not a requirement, our guests will liberate themselves from other guests with whom they do not get along, or simply move about in more manageable, smaller groups, to everybody’s benefit.
9.1. Selecting Your Restaurants
Try not to make them uniform. If your budget is 30€ per meal, schedule alternate 20’s and 40’s, rather than all 30’s. Explain that this is what you are doing, announce “simple meals” (often programmed “because there really isn’t anything exceptional in this village - we can spend the budget better elsewhere”) and “splurges” so that our guests see what the simple meals have paid for…. Ethan used to introduce the topic in his intro speech by saying something like “We can have all mid-range meals, we can have some nice and some simple, or we can go to the Tour d’Argent right now, and then eat pizza for the rest of the trip.” Put like that, most vote for the middle option….
Note that this is less of an issue in Norway, where there simply is not that much of a focus on food, and the meals are more interesting for their atmosphere than for their gastronomy.
A good way to reduce the cost of some meals (and thus improve the budget for others) is to find a theme for them. A genuine beer garden in Germany. A real pizzeria in Italy. A tapas evening in Spain. A crêperie in France. A little family-run place that has simple charm, an ethnic restaurant historically appropriate to the country (North African or Vietnamese in France, or Turkish in Germany, for instance) These make the cheaper meals seem like treats, and leave you more money for other meals designed to focus on the food itself.
Once you have decided what you are going to propose, try to find another place in the same (or lower) price range to offer for those who dont want the group thing.
9.2. Setting up Group Meals
If the place you are have in mind for those dining with you requires reservations (which will always be the case if you have 10 or more guests), you may ask your guests for a commitment on this the day before (or by that morning's breakfast at the latest), and only accept late deciders on a stand-by basis.
If you have 10 or more, you should not generally allow à la carte ordering, which will take forever, both at the ordering stage, and for food prep by a swamped kitchen. Stop by the restaurant beforehand, and set up a prix fixe menu with the owner or manager (you will have to warn them of your arrival, in any event).
This prix fixe menu should try to offer the following characteristics;
Note: if wine is included in a prix fixe which you set up (a restaurateur will sometimes suggest this at an advantageous price), you must re-sell it to your guests. You then re-invest the procedes in your meal budget, and carefully note the incoming revenue in your accounts.
(Our insurance policy strictly prohibits us from providing any alcohol to our guests. Should someone trip and fall as they leave the restaurant, having drunk at our expense, not only would we have no liability insurance to cover that precise incident, but our policy would be automatically suspended! Either way, end o Blue Marble . Needless to say, you would instantly forfeit your bonus, and might well share in a liability suit in such a case. We dont want to sound mean, but it would be a great disservice to you and to ourselves to be other than clear on this point. Please, if you buy a round of drinks, make sure people know that it is with your money, and not on the company’s tab!)
Setting up a meal this way has an advantage: it is generally less expensive than the same meal ordered à la carte, which leaves you more money for better meals.
9.3. Managing the Meals Once at the Table
If you are taking a large group to dinner (more than 8 people), you will find yourself with a crucial and unexpected task: keeping things moving. Our guests quickly become impatient with disorganization in general, and with long waits in particular, but the small restaurants we favor will rarely have the expertise necessary to deal efficiently with a large group of foreigners, unless you lend a hand.
The biggest problem is at the ordering stage: the wait time between sitting down and first food is all-important. People are tired, cranky, and famished. So are you, which makes your role all the harder. But translating the menu takes time, ordering takes more, everyone wants drinks (especially water) instantly, but also wants the waitress around to ask endless questions of, which (of course) prevents her from getting the drinks
There are several things you can do to help the process along.
Generally, for those with whom you dine, your role includes...
No one should ever go hungry at a Blue Marble meal, for any reason. There is always more food in a restaurant. Make sure your guests have enough to eat, and order more if they dont, the budget be damned.
More generally, people should feel that they are on vacation. Do your best to avoid places that are so expensive that you have to restrict orders. If someone wants the expensive menu, dont guilt him out of it. Just be sure to choose your restaurant in function of the risk....
There are two exceptions:
9.4. Managing the Drinks at Dinner
Managing the drinks is a big job. Neither alcoholic nor non-alcoholic drinks are included in the price of our trips (except for water, always included — tap when available, mineral otherwise). For insurance reasons, it is particularly important that alcohol not be funded. In order to avoid discouraging tasting of the local wines and beers, we think it just as important that other drinks not be funded. Our trip prices reflect this choice.
Exceptions: if a guest prefers a coffee or a tea to dessert, allow this substitution. Also, if you cannot keep enough water on the table without ordering mineral water, fund the mineral water.
In latin countries, order wines to cater to every budget. Table wine (the cheapest in the house) should almost always be ordered. Beyond this, pick some better things if you know how to. Clearly identify what you are putting on the table, and state its rough price; and its relative price (one glass of this = 3 glasses of that"). This is important. Our guests must have a right to know what they are buying, and how much it costs. They should not be presented with some huge bill because they poured from the bottle in front of them at random, and it turned out to be Romanée-Conti.
9.5. Sharing the Drinks Tab - the Ron System
It is obvious that separate drink checks for 18 people are not practical. They take forever, ruin dinner, and anger restaurateurs. Moreover, how do you divide 3 bottles of wine when one person had a single glass, his neighbor had 3, and his neighbor is under the table?
We have developed a system to streamline the process, known as the Ron System (for good, historical reasons). Though it takes a while to get proficient at this, it is an equitable system once you do (and equitable is important to many of our guests). It also saves a lot of time.
On general note: for the purposes of dividing the tab, a "glass" of wine should be the equivalent of an 8th of a bottle (in other words, there are 8 glasses to a bottle). This should be stated at the first dinner's wine calculation, so that people who take a third of the bottle into their Bordeaux snifters can adjust their glass counts accordingly. Illustrate as necessary.
9.6. Helping Guests Who Go Off on Their Own
If any of our guests wish to go off on their own, fight the urge to take it personally.
9.7. Independent Nights
On independent nights you should be sure to have suggestions ready for our guests in different price ranges. You yourself may choose to go off on your own, or discretely with a smaller subset of the group, chosen for affinity — free nights are partly designed as a respite for you.
This must be done tactfully: if you need a break from a whiner, but who lacks the independence to strike out on his own, your only choice is to feign a minor stomach ailment, and to dine by yourself, thus leaving the whiner with the friends you have made in the group, and with whom you would have enjoyed dining. Painful, and lonely, but it helps you to re-source. And you appreciate the company of your fellow man all the more after a night alone....
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10. Being a Cultural Ambassador
10.1. Smoothing Over Differences
You serve as a cultural intermediary between hotels / restaurants and our guests. To the guests, you laughingly explain the the French have never heard of tap water as something you would imbibe (they think that it is something dangerous, into which you put alcohol to kill germs), while at the same time explaining to the waiter that Americans drink at least 4 times as much water as any other nationality, no doubt because their wines are so bad. That type of thing. When you show up in a hotel and find that all the double rooms contain double beds, you must tactfully explain to the hotel keeper that, of course you would find it perfectly normal to share a double bed with someone of the same gender whom you barely know, but that silly Americans are fussy about that sort of thing.
In general, your role as an intermediary cannot be overemphasized. Many of our choices in little hotels are the results of hard research, and are the only hotels of their value and interest in the area. But hotel keepers at this level are not used to foreigners, and least of all to North Americans. Alienating one can do a lot of damage, up to and including forcing us to abandon a route segment. This is especially true in rural areas, or in tourist hot spots such as Venice or Como.
10.2. Playing Guide
While you have no real assigned role here, the best of us get to know the history and politics of the regions we pass through, and try to impart same to our guests. This can take the form of a 30-minute talk (announced, optional) at the start of the trip. The overwhelmingly favorable comments these get (when they are given) is proof of their worth, if you are able to do them.
If you decide to take this on, prepare an outline. Nothing is so boring as a meandering and extendable stream of verbiage punctuated by oh yeah, and I meant to tell you . You can lift your structure and some of your content from Michelin, throwing in anecdotes from more trendy, less Catholic guidebooks, or from your own general culture.
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11. Creating a Trip's Ambiance
Above all, be friendly and cheerful. A "people" person. Beyond that...
11.1. Be a People Person
The trip will be far more fun for both you and for your charges if you manage to make them your allies rather than your bosses (though this can substantially hurt your revenues, as you are less likely to be tipped). Moreover, as part of your role (and very much in your own interest), you should heal / smooth over any splits in the group, insofar as possible without taking sides. You must show yourself personable and friendly towards all your guests, even though you may conceive a personal dislike for one or another.
You must also be outwardly upbeat and positive, even when this is not the way you are actually feeling — or the way you really are in life!
Your attitude regarding the experiences you share will determine those of many of your guests, who do not know what to expect. They, in turn, will sway the majority opinion. True independent thinkers are rare, and even if you find one, he will generally (wisely) choose to keep negative details to himself if the overall atmosphere is good.
Here are some specific hints to help you attain this objective. If you follow them, you may find that the potentially big job of keeping everyone cheerful takes care of itself. All of these seem obvious once stated, but they are useful tools to avoid or resolve conflict, and their use is not as intuitive as their enunciation.
11.2. Treat Your Guests Like Guests, not Like Children
Our riders often wield considerable influence and power in their "real world" daily lives. They are used to giving orders more often than receiving them, and to being admired for their ability in their fields. They are generally willing to accord you a level of respect and deference that is based on your aptitude to your work, but they do not take well to being assimilated to an unruly bunch of children, ordered around, interrupted, or talked down to.
So please treat them with respect and courtesy. Every time you interrupt their dinner conversation to announce some factoid or take an order for another course, you make yourself an irritant. The ruder or pushier you are about it, the more irritating. Keep such interruptions limited in number and duration. If you have trouble getting the table to concentrate while you translate the menu, couch your request for attention as an attempt to limit the length of your intervention. Guys, Im sorry to be monopolizing the conversation with this. Ill get through it as fast as I can so you can all go back to fun stuff. If you all concentrate for just a couple of minutes, Ill be out of your hair that much faster.” If you have trouble getting attention to begin with, dont stand up and clank a knife on a glass. Select a couple of people around the table, and ask for their help in getting the attention of their neighbors. You get the idea. Act with modesty, courtesy and grace, not as a camp counselor.
11.3. Never Discuss Money
Many of our guests are MBAs, and most are left-side-of-the-brain types. While not really mistrustful, they are analytical, and fascinated by the economics of our operation, which they envy in an abstract sort of way. They want to know all about how much of their trip money goes to our overhead, how much to meals, etc. When they find out, they will more-or-less intentionally forget many of the costs involved in their trips (the bikes, the trains, your pay ), retaining essentially that we pay for hotels and meals. Theres no point in getting mad at them for this, nor in arguing. You are at a disadvantage without their training. They learn to do it in courses on organizational behavior and negotiation strategy.
They pro-rate their per-day trip cost, see that they have paid (say) 200€ per day, that hotels and meals only cost us 100€, and they launch a campaign to increase the amount reinvested in their meal budgets. This can make your life difficult, and they will be essentially dissatisfied with Blue Marble, even if they have a great time on their trips.
To defuse this, avoid at all costs discussing this aspect of our operations. Change the subject, show yourself bored by the topic, make fun of the questioner (oh, you MBAs ), remind the questioner that he is on vacation, and there to forget this type of material issue. Under persistent questioning, say only that your trip budget is comfortable for what [you] have to do with it, and suggest that they relax and enjoy the journey.
As a last resort, plead ignorance, or stupidity, or suggest that you dont really keep track. But do not answer. To do so is to open a Pandoras box that you will never again shut! And an obvious refusal to open that box is almost as much trouble.
11.4. Be Organized
Keep your paperwork up to date, read over the itinerary and the Michelin a day in advance of each days route, etc.
Our guests are funding your trip around Europe in exchange for your (and our) ability to facilitate their travel. Every time you keep one of them waiting, or make him stand on a line in your place, or guard your luggage, or make change, or whatever, you lessen your worth slightly. All of the above will be necessary at one time or another, but you should work to reduce the incidence as much as possible. Here are some specific things you can do to make yourself useful, and increase the worth of our trips.
11.5. Create Something Special
Anything you can do to make your guests feel that they have experienced something special or unusual will be greatly appreciated by them, and by us.
We encourage them to bring modest evening clothes, for instance (a tie for the men) if you go to a nice restaurant, dress for it. Whatever you do, do not make fun of the idea: even if you are the grunge type, not all of your fellow Coordinators are. Some of us use the idea of dressing up to create a special atmosphere around a special gastronomic experience (and, historically, those who do are those whose gastronomic knowledge is the most appreciated).
If you can conduct a wine tasting, do so. If you can give a history lecture, do. Whatever you can bring to the trip, bring it. It will make your job more interesting, and help your guests enjoy their trips more.
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12. Helping With A Guest's Ongoing Travel
12.1. Distributing ongoing hotel reservations and train tickets
In function of the guest's pre-trip requests, the Paris office may have prepared a set of ongoing train tickets or hotel reservations. As part of your trip preparation, you verify these arrangements, and on the eve of the trip’s end, you hand them to the client and explain them (which means that you must, yourself, understand them).
To be clear: part of your role is to understand how the guest is leaving our care, and to verify that appropriate arrangements have been made.
12.2. Helping a Guest to Set Up Ongoing Travel While on the Trip
As an expert in Euro travel, feel free to help with any advice you can give to a guest, in an informal manner. But you should not offer to make train or hotel reservations, look up schedules, whatever, unless you want to go “above and beyond.” These are paid services, offered by Blue Marble, and you should avoid entering into low-cost competition with the company trying to earn the money to pay your salary, unless you wish to do something especially nice for someone.
In general, a guest who needs some ongoing travel arrangement must contact the Paris office himself, directly, by e.mail or phone.
You can be called upon to serve as an information conduit in one direction only: from Blue Marble to the client. We often route communication through you, because that way we are sure that the client receives the message. If we e.mail a client, and s/he does not reply, we will never know whether or not they received the e.mail. If we copy the Trip Coordinator (you), we can ask you to “acknowledge reception” of the communication, which you should do promptly. We have confidence that you will relay the information to the client, and confirm that you have done so. That way, we know, with absolute reliability, that the client has received the information.
The client cannot talk to us via this same route (in other words, the client cannot give you information to relay to us). He must contact us himself. If he needs your help in doing so, you can offer to stand by while he does. This can be helpful: once we have “come to terms” with the client, we can speak to you to coordinate the action needed. But we need direct contact with the client to make travel arrangements for him.
You never need to call the office just to “check in.” However, this assumes you keep your cell phone on, working, and loaded with sufficient credit to be able to receive calls. Our (collective) track record on this point is not good....
If you do receive a communication, please take it seriously, and make the time to reply promptly, if a reply is requested
Regarding getting involved with client projects “on the road:” general practise is that you do not help with ongoing trains / hotels / whatever, not having to do with Blue Marble. That stuff is up to the client to work out directly with an office, generally the Paris office if travel arrangements are involved.
13. Investing in Your Itinerary
In your spare time (yes, that is a joke) you should keep your eyes open for route improvements. You are our eyes on the road. Has a great chef been replaced by a mediocre one? Update the route info you received on the topic. Has a new bike path opened? Make sure that the next route sheets take it into account. Does another hotel in the same price range look better than yours? Make sure it has 12+ rooms, and if it does, get its card! We have all cursed misinformation received from Paris, outdated train schedules, etc. But how does Paris know to correct this stuff if you dont tell them? You should really be cursing the colleague who ran the route before you.
And it is obviously not enough to throw off in casual conversation that such-and-such a train no longer carries bikes. The Paris Office Manager may listen with interest, but chances are s/he doesnt really know what you are talking about, or why it matters. Nicolas is too busy to deal with it . Get it into the Guide for Guides for your route. If the information you have is information our guests should be provided with, update the route sheets.
In essence, support the coordinators who follow you as you would wish to have been supported. Think of this as enlightened self-interest.
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14 “Back Office Obligations
14.1. Reporting Your Hours
You are paid by means of time sheets. That is, you fill out time sheets which relate your monthly activity, and these are turned in to a payroll company which uses them as a base for your compensation.
14.2. Turning in Trip Funds
Problems in trip accounts are routine. And they are not a big deal if they can be identified quickly, or at least associated with the trip on which they occur. They are a much bigger problem if they are carried from trip to trip, since this requires us to go through many of your trips to locate the source of each problem.
So... at the end of each trip, turn in your funds!!!!! Doing so takes two forms: one if you are arriving in Paris, another if you are on the road.
14.3. Updating / Replacing Your Balance Sheet
At the start of your trip, when you received your funds, you (presumably) signed a receipt in the form of a Balance Sheet, specific to your trip. Several pieces of information must be entered to this sheet when you return to Paris.
Together, these entries should reflect the total sum spent on your trip. In an ideal world, the net sum (“trou”) will be close to zero. Space is provided for approximate currency conversion, should you wish to check.
14.4. Processing and Filing Your Receipts
Receipts are first sorted / divided as follows.
They are then entered to our accounting system as follows.
14.5 Correcting guest route information that you have found lacking during your trip
To be written.
14.6 Annotating your guests records for future trips
We like to know your opinions of your riders, for various reasons. For one thing, if they have any particularities that the Coordinator of their next trip should know of in advance, in order to be prepared to effectively cater to the client, these should be listed (nervous biker, difficult diet, whatever).
Additionally, their ranking may determine their access to commercial discounts. In extreme circumstances, we may even refuse a client’s patronage, if his / her presence on the trip is seriously detrimental to the enjoyment or safety of our other guests.
Be careful in ascribing your notes: personality conflicts with you are not a reason to downgrade a guest. But personality conflicts with a large portion of the trip are. If 80% of your guests are not “9's” (the highest ranking), there is a problem, either with your rankings, or with your trip management!
Please be attentive to the ranking system, which is not linear (“8” is as good as “9,” for instance, but distinguishes the guest’s suitability as a future reference). Details can be found on the “Client Evaluation” layout, in the “Clients” data base.
14.7 Updating the “Guide for Guides” for Your Route
To be written.
14.8 Paying your phone bill
Local calls to other than mobile or paid numbers (clearly recognizable by their “06” and “08” prefixes) are free from the office. So are “short” international calls (the kind you might make to set up an appointment, or to ask someone to call you back).
If your call costs a euro or more (basically, any call to a cell / mobile lasting more than a few seconds, or a 10+ minute international call), you are expected to reimburse it. Please keep a log of such calls (duration, number called). If you tell us about them, they are billed at our (deeply discounted) phone rates. If we have to hunt you down when we check over the phone bill, you pay the regular Telecom rates, rounded to double for the purpose of ease of calculation.
General preparation and break-down of trips
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15. Representing Blue Marble
You are also, perhaps above all, a Blue Marble spokesman. If something goes wrong on the road, you must avoid the mentality of “it's not my fault - the office did that” — even when that statement is true. “The office” will save you from one of your errors at least twice for every time it puts you in a sling. Throwing responsibility to someone else renders you personally more sympathetic to your charges, but makes the company sound bad. Guests will not come back for a second trip if they liked you but thought that you worked with a bunch of idiots. They may, however, if they think the reverse is true. One of the worst comments you can get on your comment forms is, “I would only do another trip if _________ [you] is leading it.” Nor will hotels take our groups back unless you delicately smooth over our errors.
Don't worry, not much goes wrong. We handle our trips far more professionally than the travel industry standard. And we give you the means to solve what does go awry. This deserves your pride and support.
Treat your colleagues with respect at all times and in all things. We work together in circumstances which mean that we all come to know a great deal about each other — perhaps more than is strictly good for us. “Know” does not mean “like,” but descending to 10-year-old-girl-in-schoolyard backbiting never helps, in any way. It didn’t help when you were 10, either, but we are constantly amazed at the number of people who seem not to have learned that lesson!
Your job is to treat your colleagues with respect and courtesy, to their faces and behind their backs, even if your personality does not wire you that way. Do not mock, or even overtly contradict something that one of them has said to a client. If you can’t agree with it, change the subject, or give a nuanced reply that clearly acknowledges the validity of the point of view you contest. If a colleague’s job performance is impacting yours, talk to the colleague, or (if that doesn’'t work) to the boss. If you don’t get the help you need, and can’t live with the result, resign. This is a clear indication that you are not in the right place.
Our riders often go from one trip segment to the next. If you have ridiculed the company, the equipment, the hotels, the country your rider is headed to, the Coordinator who is to be leading that trip (or his opinions)... even in jest... you have significantly lessened the chances for the success of your rider’s next trip segment, since it will be approached with predjudice. That is the opposite of what we expect from you.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Remember your mother telling you that?
A Final, General Comment
For many of us, travelling in Europe becomes somewhat banal. Sure, there are moments when a beautiful view or a great meal captures your attention or imagination, but over years the places we go become almost like home. We still enjoy them, but the edge of excitement wears off.
Try not to lose sight of the fact that for many of our guests it is the trip of a decade, and for a few, the trip of a lifetime. Though their demands of us as a company, or as individuals, may sometimes seem unrealistic, we must always find a way to answer them positively. Not necessarily satisfy them, since at times this will simply be impossible, or prohibitively expensive. But we must care for them as best we can, and we must provide rigorously the services promised on our web site. Which implies that you have read a few key pages.
And a warning: few new Coordinators really enjoy their first few trips, or even their first year. This is very hard work. The job assigned to you above is absolutely impossible to do perfectly, and none of us do. You are on call all the time, and not yet well enough organized to do your work efficiently.
Everyone thinks this is a great job until they do it. Well, it does become a great job. People are paying you to go biking around Europe with them, and to eat well. There are worse things to do for a living.
But it is not a great job at first. The learning curve is steep, not all temperments are suited, and you will probably be quite discouraged initially. Please be forewarned - we want you going in with your eyes open, or not at all.
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